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Lakenheath senior Amanda Hood, who has been pitching barely a year, relies on location rather than blazing speed to get batters out. Hood is 6-1 with 37 strikeouts in 31 innings this season.
Lakenheath senior Amanda Hood, who has been pitching barely a year, relies on location rather than blazing speed to get batters out. Hood is 6-1 with 37 strikeouts in 31 innings this season. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Coaches have to be creative sometimes.

John Gilmore, coach of the softball team at Lakenheath High School, needed a pitcher. So everyone pitched during practice last year. Everyone stood out there and whipped the ball toward a catcher, like an audition for a part in a Broadway play.

“I pretty much put my whole team out there on the mound,” Gilmore said.

Some were eliminated. Others flourished. But no one separated herself from the pack like Amanda Hood.

Hood pitched her first game late last season, and has been the workhorse of the team during her senior year.

At one point this season, she pitched 10 innings of no-hit ball and struck out 13 of the 19 batters she faced in one stretch. She is 6-1 with 37 strikeouts in 31 innings this season.

But it is not Hood’s arm that is impressive on the mound. She is no fireballer, blowing away hitters with sheer speed. For her, pitching is a cerebral exercise.

“You have to use your brain. You have to think about what you’re throwing,” she said.

Hood shakes her head frequently until catcher Shawnalee Bradley calls for the pitch she wants to throw. And then it might be high or low, inside or outside, depending on where Hood thinks the hitter won’t be expecting it.

“It’s entirely a mind game. I’m not fast enough ... to just blaze it past them,” she said.

Gilmore said, “She keeps batters off-balance. That’s the key. She’s got just enough fastball that if you’re thinking change-up, it’ll be by you or you’ll pop it up.”

Hood, who has a .568 batting average, is where she belongs on the softball field. She appears to be having the time of her life during a game.

“She enjoys pitching,” said her father, Maj. Paul Hood, a navigator with the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall. “You see a smile on her face all the time. Her mom [Louisa] and I are having a heart attack, but she’s smiling.”

It is fitting, too, that Hood’s skill puts her at the center of the action. The 17-year old honor student is the team captain, just as she was for the volleyball team and the basketball team.

“Amanda is one of the top leaders in the school,” Gilmore said. “She knows how to go and talk to people. And everybody respects that.”

In a recent game, Hood’s teammates let her down with sloppy defense. But she kept smiling and throwing.

Hood said her role as captain for three teams this year is partly a result of her four years at the school, a rare stretch. She’s familiar with the coaches, the schedules and the opponents.

“I know more than most of the girls. I have to help them out,” she said.

“If you don’t take that seriously, it just won’t work out.”

Plus, she said, there is nothing better than being part of a team.

“The fun is you have to rely on yourself, but you have to rely on other people around you. A victory for one is a victory for all,” she said.

She likened a team to a chain. Each link must be strong or the chain breaks. As a captain and a player, her job is to see that there are no weak links.

“Making that chain stronger is the best feeling in the world,” she said.

Hood has been accepted at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., where her older sister, Tasha, is studying. She hopes to play softball there.

“I’ve always been interested in the military,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in law enforcement. So it’s a perfect mix.”

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